With a third (give or take a fraction) of the inaugural Alliance of American Football regular season complete, only the Birmingham Iron and Orlando Apollos remain unbeaten.
Birmingham (3-0) has used a smothering defense to mow down Memphis (0-3), Salt Lake (1-2) and Atlanta (0-3), while Orlando (3-0) has been more offense-minded in conquests of Atlanta, San Antonio (1-2) and Memphis.
The Iron gave up 346 yards of total offense but only one touchdown in beating the Legends, 28-12, on Sunday at Georgia State Stadium.
“Our defensive coordinator, Rick Minter, did a fantastic job mixing up the calls and coverages,” Birmingham Coach Tim Lewis said. “We did a good job giving their offensive line all they could handle. Our running back (Trent Richardson) never ceases to amaze me. He’s a very powerful guy who always doesn’t look flashy, but he’s a strong, powerful runner.
“When we had to grind it out, he was able to put his head down and plow into the end zone. It was a tough game that came down to a matter of wills.”
Orlando managed just two TDs in a 21-17 home win over Memphis last Saturday, which caused Apollos boss Steve Spurrier to be muted in his praise of the Eastern Conference co-leaders.
“We feel fortunate to be 3-0,” Spurrier said. “We know the ball has bounced our way the last couple of weeks. We’re trying to improve as the season progresses and if we do that, we’ll have a chance for a big season.
“Offensively last week we weren’t terrible, we just weren’t good.”
SO FAR, SO GOOD
Alliance co-founder Bill Polian was in the press box for Atlanta’s home opener last Sunday, and says the “evolution” of the league’s teams is going about as he expected.
“At this stage of the game the defense is ahead of the offense, and it takes a while to get the offense going,” he said. “It takes a while to get cohesion and get everybody on the same page and I’m sure that will come. I was talking to both (Atlanta and Birmingham) general managers before the game and we’re as close to parity in this league as any I’ve ever been in, which is great.”
Polian suggests that even in football’s top league, offenses rarely find a groove until several games have been played.
“In the NFL it takes until about Week 5 for the offenses to get in sync, and that really shows up in the red zone because everything is much more congested down there,” Polian said. “We’re playing good football and have enthusiastic fans. You hate to say everything is hunky dory, but so far we couldn’t have scripted it any better.”
WATCH OUT FOR THE FLEET
San Diego (2-1) tuned some heads last week with a 31-11 rout of the San Antonio Commanders, avenging a season-opening loss to the Texans and looking like a team ready to make a move.
They now share the Western Conference lead with Arizona (2-1).
The Fleet rolled up 381 yards in total offense and got 202 on the ground in the conquest.
“We’re still a project on offense, but we’re getting better every week,” San Diego Coach Mike Martz said. “Everything seems like it’s coming together a little bit, but it’s not good enough. Everyone is getting better. Those who don’t get better will fall behind pretty quick.”
STRUGGLES IN ATLANTA
The Legends are winless and if you take a look behind the scenes, it’s no wonder.
Original head coach Brad Childress resigned a month before the season started, offensive coordinator Michael Vick was removed from that post two days before the season started, and last Friday acting OC and quarterbacks coach Rich Bartel resigned.
To make matters worse, many of the 10,717 fans who showed up for Sunday’s loss to Birmingham spent much of the day booing starting quarterback Matt Simms and chanting, “We want Murray,” in hopes former Georgia QB Aaron Murray would see action.
He didn’t, but Simms was defiant in the postgame press conference.
“I’ve earned the position that I’m in,” Simms said. “I earn it every day at practice. I earn it every day as far as what we’re asked to do, and I understand the situation – the feelings that some people may have. But at the same time, I’m earning my keep as well.
“I’m going to continue to do that, and continue to be the leader of this team, to be a team captain, and be the quarterback I know I can be when this team gets rolling.”
Simms completed 28 of 48 passes for 328 yards and a TD, but was intercepted three times and sacked twice for 19 yards in losses.
There are no kickoffs in the Alliance which makes onside kicks rather, uh, difficult.
The solution to the problem comes in the form of an “onside conversion” in which the team that just scored gets a 4th-and-12 play from its own 28.
If the team converts, it maintains possession.
Atlanta will go down in history as the first AAF team to have a successful onside “non-kick.” After the Legends scored in the fourth quarter to pull within 16 of Birmingham, Simms completed a 48-yard pass that allowed the Legends to maintain possession.
Alas, Simms was picked off on the following play to end the drive and ultimately make the unique play inconsequential.
ALL IS WELL
There were widespread reports suggesting the $250 million Tom Dundon committed to the Alliance of American Football recently was done to bail out a sinking league.
League CEO and co-founder Charlie Ebersol quickly said those reports were wrong and Dundon backed him up.
The owner of the National Hockey League’s Carolina Hurricanes officially became the chairman of the board of the Alliance last Tuesday, and says his monetary contribution is to help the spring league thrive, not merely survive.
“As a lifelong sports fan and entrepreneur, I’ve always valued the opportunities generated in the ecosystem of sports and entertainment,” Dundon said. “I’m impressed with the Alliance’s stunning growth in-stadium and across TV, mobile and social media in just these first few weeks.”
Ebersol said the AAF always planned to bring in more investors, and Dundon was certainly a huge get.
“Since the beginning, it has been crucial that the foundation of the Alliance be set with world-class partners, and Tom Dundon represents just that,” Ebersol said. “Tom, Bill (Polian), and I will work with our great team at the Alliance to expand our football operations and technology business.”
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Offense: San Diego RB Ja’Quan Gardner (122 rushing yards, 1 TD).
Defense: San Diego RB A.J. Tarpley (5 tackles, INT return for TD).
Special teams: Birmingham P Colton Schmidt (5 punts, 49.2 yard average).
Saturday it’s San Diego at Memphis (4 p.m. EST, BR/Live) and Orlando at Salt Lake (8 p.m. EST, NFL Network) while on Sunday San Antonio is at Birmingham (4 p.m. EST, CBS Sports Network), and Atlanta travels to Arizona (8 p.m. EST, NFL Network).
Follow Scott Adamson on Twitter @adamsonsl. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.